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Black Student Athlete Conference, Keynote: Daron Roberts

Black Student Athlete Conference, Keynote: Daron Roberts


At this time, I ask that we would observe
a moment of silence to commemorate the life of Stuart Scott.
Please, please join me! Thank you.
I was thinking of him, the other day, on Sunday, when the announcement hit the press that he
had passed away. And I thought about, for nearly twenty years,
I could see huddles of young men and women looking at television sets and watching this
man boldly breath life into the game of sports. And I wondered as those young people went
to bed at night how many of them, while having dreams of becoming Megatron and LeBron, could
see themselves on the set of ESPN. And so in thinking about his life and what
he represented, I think its important for us to note that he provided a template for
young people, but really for all of us, to see ourselves in the world of sports beyond
the white lines and the paint. I want to formally welcome all of you for
traveling to Austin, Texas. I can assure you that you won’t experience
an earthquake while you’re here, unless, of course, we get another big time football
commitment. And I also have to commend the leadership
of President Powers in creating the Center For Sports Leadership and Innovation.
The Center’s primary objective is to support high school coaches: the men and women who
are on the frontlines of character reform, across the country and to provide them with
the tools to make positive interventions in the lives of our young people.
Earlier in the day, I heard many researchers and experts talk about this educational pipeline.
And, as many of you know, when a negative story hits the press, everyone bemoans the
fact that an NFL player went array, but we have to start pushing these interventions
farther down the pipeline because, as a former NFL coach, I can tell you this: when we drafted
a player and he would arrive in Kansas City or Detroit, it doesn’t matter which city
he would land in, when he would arrive on that team, so many of his values were already
entrenched. And there wasn’t much room for growth.
And, so, the Center For Sports Leadership and Innovation will help to equip those men
and women, who are spending countless hours, we’re talking about the men and women who
aren’t just coaching players and games, we’re talking about the football coach who
has two young men living in his home because dad’s not around or the basketball coach
who feeds the players on Sunday because mom is working three jobs.
We’re talking about those people, and so; our primary objective is to support them.
Secondly is this, in conjunction with UT Athletics, we’re crafting a financial literacy program
that will also include the tenants of sound decision making.
And, this course will be a signature course in the undergraduate studies department and
will be offered, starting in the fall of 2015. And, later this year, we’ll be fortunate to announce a partnership with a Fortune 500 company, which will allow us to spare
no expense in being disruptive and innovative crafting the curricula to help our young men
and women here at the University of Texas. Eight years ago, I eloped from law school.
So, a buddy of mine called me up and said, “What are you doing?”
I said, “Well, I just finished a clerkship at a law firm.”
He said, “Why don’t you come with me to South Carolina?”
I said, “Why does anyone want to go to South Carolina?”
He said, “Well, I’m working at this Steve Burger’s Football Camp. And I just need
someone to come along.” So, I jumped in the car.
And, I got there. I’m sitting in the back of the room and
a coach didn’t show up. So, Coach Burger says, “Hey, can
anybody in here coach DBs?” Now, I’ll take you back.
At Mount Pleasant High School, I was a 5-10, 165, strong safety.
Ok? I didn’t have Division 1 offers rolling
in my mailbox. But I figured, “Hey, I’m from Texas. I
know football. So, I can do this.” I said, “Hey, of course.”
So, I jumped in there. And I had the best 72 hours of my life: coaching
sixth graders, backpedaling 45 degree angels, and 90 degree angels, and man turning it,
and zone vision. And I left Columbia and I said to myself, “This
is what I have to do.” This is what I have to do because here’s
what I noticed: I was a resident dorm tutor, during that time, and I watched as these kids
. . . The kid from West Lake and West Memphis, South
Dallas and the south side of Chicago . . . And I watched as these young people, these
back and these brown and these white faces became friends over this sport we call
football. And where previously I thought that my place
in life was to become a public official, it challenged me to rethink the way that I view
myself, in terms of public services. So, I wrote letters to every team in the league.
Coach Belichick sent me a nice, “Thanks, but no thanks.”
And so did Coach Dungy. And Herm Edwards gave me a shot. He gave me
a training camp internship. And he said, “Here are the terms: no pay,
no benefits, eighteen hour days.” I said, “It sounds like a good deal, man,
I’m on.” So, I graduated from law school on June 10th,
2007. I jumped in an Old Tahoe, drove to Kansas
City, and that began a seven-year career in coaching.
And, in thinking about this conference and how we’re going to grapple with how do we make the positive interventions that can change these young men and women that we deal with on a daily basis. I don’t care if it’s a professor or an
academic director. I don’t care if you’re an academic advisor, or a parent. The young men and women that I’m talking
about look to you and they look through you to craft a picture of who they want to be.
And so I have three take-a-ways from my time in sports that I want to talk about tonight.
First, we must force our young people to answer one question, and that is, “Who are you
without the ball? WHO are you without the ball?”
I was recruiting one of the top kids in the country, according to rivals, which obviously
they know it all: five stars, four stars, three stars . . .
As a side note, at the last Pro Bowl, the average star rating of the players in the
Pro Bowl was a 2.5! Ok, so, somebody’s getting it wrong.
But, anyway, I was sitting in the home of this foster.
I recruit in Baltimore. We’re sitting.
We’re talking. And I turned to him and I said, “So, tell me, who are
you without the ball?” And he looks at me, wide receiver, and he
says, “Hey, Coach, if I ain’t got the ball, I’m blocking.”
I said, “No, man, that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Let me slow down. Let me just slow this little down a bit.
I said, “Who are you outside the game of football? WHO are you outside the game of football?”
And for the next ten minutes, he stared at me and we sat in silence.
And I realized this was the first time someone had forced him to think about himself outside
the confines of a helmet, and a set of shoulder pads, and the latest Nikes.
This was the first time someone had forced him to think about his role in society beyond
the gridiron, and stripped of forty-yard dash times, and rivals rankings, and vertical jumps,
and shuttle numbers. He was left with nothing and he finally said
to me, “You know what, Coach? This is all I got.”
The kid’s seventeen years old: 17 years old, 6-2, 218 pounds, a life before him, and he has determined,
at the age of seventeen, that this sport is all that he has.
I thought about Socrates and Paul. And these are two philosophers, an apostle,
separated by 350 years, but they both came to the same conclusion: that the unexamined
life is not worth living. The unexamined life is not worth living.
And so, our first role as administrators and as coaches and as supporters and boosters and
fans . . . Our first role is to force our young people,
those young black males and black females, to think about their role and vision for life outside of the confines of sports. Because, in reality, I think about the philosopher
Herm Edwards. He told me the first day I started working
Kansas City. He said, “The ball goes flat for us all
one day. This ball that we chase around, that we throw, and we spend countless hours scheming
over, this ball will go flat for us all one day. So, whether you’re an academic advisor,
you know at some point, there’s going to be someone who’s younger, who’s going
to come in and take your job. If you’re a professor, someone’s come in, who’s going to be a more prolific publisher and a better politician will become head of the
department.” And, if you’re a coach . . . And I can attest to this, “At some point,
you will be fired for the last time.” The ball will go flat for us all.
So, this examination of who we are, outside the framework of sports, is important.
And I think about the research of Dr. George Mazokis at UCLA.
He’s passed on. He did some groundbreaking research in looking at the brain.
And he studied the substance Milan, which coats the passageways in the regions of the brain.
And, in his research, he found this: he found that overtime Milan starts to fray around
the neurons that control cognitive ability, ten years later than around the regions that control
movement. So, in short, you will slow down on the football
field before your mind slows down. And here’s what we’ve done.
Our players have turned into double down black jack players, instead of hedge fund managers.
My dad’s an old Baptist preacher. I come from a home where I have a Baptist
preacher and I have an elementary school principal: two parents in my home.
So, as you can tell, there wasn’t much room for movement in my house.
You know, when I came home, we went to choir practice.
My mom taught me the first grade curriculum, when I was in kindergarten.
When I was in first grade, she taught me the second grade curriculum.
But I’m smart understand to know that’s not the norm, I was blessed.
But my dad said, “Listen.” He said, “Don’t think of yourself as a
CEO. Think of yourself as a hedge fund manager. So, with your portfolio, you’re going to
have the risky bets. You’re going to have those mid-cap companies. And so, when someone
fires you, you need to have a skill set, regardless of which way the market moves, you’re in
a sound position.” And our student/athletes don’t view themselves
this way. They view themselves as the double down, all
in, on the game. And if you ask those football players at UAB
how that bet turned out, it’s not always a smart move.
Secondly, we have to expand this notion of a business trip past game day.
There’s a constant reframe from players and coaches.
You’ve heard it and I have. And I apologetically say that I have used
it. This is a business trip.
I said I was in West Virginia, DB’s coach, “Hey, guys, this is a business trip. We’re
going to Texas, going to Oklahoma. This is a business trip. Get ready.”
And I think about this and you’ll see players descend the steps of a bus.
And they’ll have a nice jacket on, a starched shirt, and nice slacks, and you’ll say to yourself,
“You know what? Those guys are ready to go play.” But, on Monday, when they’re walking to
that Econ class, they’re back in the Nike hoodie and the sweats.
And, for some reason, this idea of a business trip applies to the sports context, but not
the classroom. So, I can get dressed up to play the big rivalry
game. But, when I go to Econ, and when I go to Management
and Spanish, the Nike hoodie and the sweats will work.
There’s a subconscious value proposition that we’re placing on sports, while we’ll
say, “Hey, listen, only 0.2 percent of the population goes and plays sports.”
Here’s what we have to realize, the reason why that young man and that young woman are
in your meeting room is because they’ve never believed the odds. Right?
They’ve never believed the odds. They are a Division 1 athlete because they believe, when
they were in the sixth grade, they could do it.
So, when you tell them, “Hey, there is a small chance that you will make it to the
NFL, they say, ‘I’m the small chance. I’m the outlier. I’m the exception to
the rule.” But we have to expand this notion and say,
“OK, now listen. We know you’re here to play sports, but why should you walk away
from this position with the viewpoint that Ricky Williams expressed here last fall? And
he said, ‘I left the University of Texas and I was only qualified to play football.
That’s the only thing that I was prepared to do.’” Now this is what I want to say, I believe
in personal responsibility and I would tell my recruits this.
I’d say, “Listen! If you come to West Virginia University and don’t leave with a Masters
on our dime, that’s your fault. We need to pay for your undergraduate, your Bachelors,
and your Masters. So, if you leave without your Masters, that’s your fault. So, don’t
bemoan the fact that the multi-billion dollar packages, surrounding the college football
playoff series. You have to find ways to walk on campus and extract value from the system
because you understand that, at some point, this skill that you have will go away.”
And finally, I want to come to this call, “If not you, then who?”
Whether athletic director or academic advisor, professor or coach, we have to pledge to be
the cold waters of reality that these young men and women face.
They need a dose of reality that comes from us.
And here’s the challenge. The challenge is we need them to play on Saturday
well. I was a coach.
I was Assistant Coach at West Virginia. What’d I think about?
My players and that I wanted to become a defensive coordinator and then I wanted to become a
head coach. And I understood when I walked onto that
campus that, more than likely, I would be there for two or three years.
They get it as well. They know. They know that coaches . . .
They know that the coach that they begin with, as a freshman, probably won’t be there when
they graduate, if they graduate. They understand that.
And Herm said something to me. He said, “Players have a PhD in coaching
because, since their Pop Warner days, they’ve heard every speech. They’ve heard every promise. They can
read the body language. They know when you’re fake. They know when you don’t mean it.
They know what they can get away with. And if you don’t hold them to a strong line
of responsibility, you’ll never have it.” And, I’ll take it to this conversation,
when Commissioner Goodell came into Austin and I was fortunate to sit in that meeting
between the Commissioner and Coach Strong. And I heard Coach Strong say this, “And
I understood, when I first came here, that if I didn’t set my beliefs in place early,
I would never have the locker room from day one.”
Because, if it’s day ten, if it happens on day ten or if it happens when your star quarterback gets
into trouble and now you want to get right, they see that. It needs to happen on day one.
The standard has to be set on day one. I’ll tell you a strong.
Fourth In One is a camp. The first year that we ran the camp, a young
mother and her son came up to me. And said, “We need help with paying for this
kid’s college applications.” Okay, and I said . . .
Well, I looked down and I noticed the kid, it was 2010, he had the latest pair of Jordan’s
on. I could tell they were fresh out of the box.
Fresh out of the box! I told the mom, “Sell the Jordan’s!”
She said, “What?” I said, “Sell them. Go on eBay and sell
them. You can easily get 160 for them.” She said, “But he needs them to go to school.”
I said, “So, hold on now.” I said, “I’m kind of old, but there’s
a requirement for him to wear Jordan’s at his high school?”
She said, “No, that’s not what I’m saying, Coach, but, you know, all the other kid’s
have them.” I said, “Listen, those pair of Jordan’s
are costing you three college applications. THREE COLLEGE APPLICATIONS! He’s wearing
three college applications. And here’s what I’m going to tell you, if you sell the Jordan’s,
we’ll match you dollar-for-dollar. So, now he’ll apply to six schools.”
She said, “I can’t do it,” and walked away.
This is the mother. THIS IS THE MOTHER! Now, here’s what I want to say, “If you
get a chance to stroll around campus, you’ll go by the tower and you’ll see something.
You’ll see the inscription. And it says, ‘Ye Shall Know The Truth And The Truth Shall
Make You Free.’ And oftentimes, we misquote things. We say, “Set free.” But the original
Greek, it’s “make free” and it’s talking about a mindset and not a condition. It’s
talking about the shifting of a mindset because condition change with the weather. They change
with what Twitter says. They change with how many re-tweets you get, how many “likes”
your post gets. That’s what a condition does. But, when you have a mindset, that mindset will enable you to weather the changes in society and the market forces.”
What we have to do is this: we have to become the truthsayers.
When the young man comes in, and I’m going to say this, “I’m fearful.”
And when I say “we,” I’m talking about a collective body: all of us in sports and
college athletics. I’m fearful what we are placing on the
altar of APR. What are the sacrifices we’re putting on
the altar of APR? Because, if a kid tells you that he wants
to be an engineer and you try to push him into cultural studies . . .
Now, I don’t have anything against cultural studies.
If a kid wants to be an engineer and you want to push him into cultural studies, you are doing the
kid a disservice. But you’re not just doing the kid a disservice.
Here’s what I think about, I have three children, two boys and a girl.
My four-year-old son, Dylan, wants to go to the University of Texas because daddy went
to the University of Texas. He couldn’t point to Austin on a map for
me right now. He wants to go to Harvard Law School because
daddy went to Harvard Law School. And the guys that he sees on CNN, Obama, went there
too. So, that’s where he’s going to go.
So, when we suffocate the aspirations of our young people, what we’re really doing is
we’re suffocating the generational dreams that come after them.
I’m the great-great grandson of a man who left slavery in Mississippi, walked west to
Panola County, worked for five years to buy forty acres, set up a church, set up a home,
put aside money, at that time, when his kids couldn’t go to school, he set up an educational
fund. Talking about this hope in the unseen.
He set up an educational fund. He said, “Listen, at some point, these young
people that I have, my progeny will be able to go to school.
There’s only fifty dollars in here, but whatever you can do, I want you to give it
to them. So, when I grew up, and my dad and my mom
were both college graduates, the bar had been set.
But, now the market’s changing. Your Bachelors . . .
The Bachelors is the old high school degree. The Masters . . .
I tell kid now, “Listen, the masters now has to become the minimum standard. That has
to become the minimum end on standards. The average grade that The average grade that player needs to become eligible to play in high
school, across the country, is a seventy-five. A SEVENTY-FIVE!
And I heard some research today. A young man said that, you know, he was talking
to a young man. Brother Martin talked about this.
The high school player said, “You know what, my coach, if I make high grades, I don’t
hear from him. I make all A’s, I don’t hear from him. But, if I get close to that
ineligibility cut off, now all of the sudden, I start hearing from him.”
We have to find a way to start praising this academic achievement that our young people
are experiencing. That has to be right at the forefront with
first team All Americans. That has to be at the forefront of the Conference Championships: the academic achievements that these young people are producing on campus and it’s happening because outside of the university context, people don’t believe these young men and women
are learning anything. They don’t.
And we’re not doing a good enough job of broadcasting that to the world.
To the walk-on, who’s an electrical engineering major – right – he doesn’t play on Saturday,
but he’s going to graduate with an electrical engineering degree.
That has to be praised, as much as when that running back breaks the all time record.
They have to be equally praised. I want to leave you with this; I watch this
speech at least once a year. And I go back to Mac Brown’s speech to the
team after he had won the biggest game of his career.
So, after the Rose Bowl, he’s in the locker room, and he’s addressing a group of young men, who
had just reached the pinnacle of sports success. And he said, “I don’t want this to be
the best thing that ever happened to you. I don’t want this moment, this moment of beating
USC, when people said that you couldn’t do it. I don’t want this moment of standing
around the confetti and holding up this trophy. I don’t want this moment to be the best thing that happened
to you. And what we have to do, as influencers, is find a way to build up the young men and
women, who spend time, and forty hours and fifty hours . . .
I know what the rules say, but you all know it if you’ve been involved.
I’ve been in the Meeting Room. I wouldn’t want to keep up at how many hours
I kept my DBs in there. These young men and women, who are spending
forty and fifty and sixty hours a day
playing a sport, at whatever university it may be, cannot be the pinnacle of their success.
We have to transform sports, which I love dearly, because it teaches so many life changing
lessons. We have to transform sports from a pinnacle
to a pit stop. This is a setting for you to gain the best
leadership training you can get, but you have to take these skills, these management
skills and these skills of human intelligence, and transfer those skills outside the domain
of sports. This is a pit stop.
It’s not the pinnacle. It’s not the peak.
It’s not the summit. This is where you’re going to refuel and
move on for success. That is the challenge that we have.
I pray that, as all of you return to your respective homes, that you continue to push
our young people and that you force them to grapple with the question that they have to
answer. Who are they without the ball?
Who are they without that baton? Who are they when the gym lights go off?
Force them to grapple with those difficult questions and continue to transform lives
for the benefit of society. Thank you.

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